GAME NOTES: In the second semifinal-round matchup in the Southern Conference Tournament, the third-seeded Wofford Terriers will face the surprising seventh-seeded Georgia Southern Eagles at U.S. Cellular Center.
Georgia Southern is the surprise story of this tournament, as the Eagles topped second-seed Wofford 62-55 in Saturday's quarterfinals. They also defeated Furman in the first round (65-50), giving them back-to-back wins after losing six of their final eight games of the regular season.
Wofford's advancement to this part of the tournament was less stunning as it defeated 11th-seeded Citadel, 68-51, in the second round after skipping the first round with a bye. The Terriers have split their last four games dating back to the regular season, and are 18-12 overall.
The Terriers won both regular-season meetings between these two squads, with a 74-64 triumph on the road and a 74-61 victory at home. The Terriers' two wins pushed them to a slim lead (24-23) in the all-time series. The winner this time around will take on either Davidson or Western Carolina in Monday's championship game.
Tre Bussey paved the way with 17 points in Georgia Southern's upset of Wofford. The Eagles connected on 50 percent of their shots from the floor in the second half to erase a halftime deficit, and also outscored the Mocs by a 15-6 margin off of turnovers.
Georgia Southern is normally led by Jelani Hewitt (19.8 ppg, 3.1 apg), who is the league's leading scorer. However, Bussey (16.3 ppg) is also a top-notch performer and teams with Hewitt to form one of the more lethal combinations in the country. In the win over Chattanooga, Bussey sank 7-of-15 shots from the floor, while Hewitt tallied 12 points on just 5-of-13 shooting. Brian Holmes (8.9 ppg) is the next-best option on the roster, but he is only shooting 39.4 percent from the field this season. All told, the Eagles are netting 71.2 ppg on 43.8 percent efficiency.
Karl Cochran scored 22 points and hit 7-of-16 from the floor as part of a 52.1 percent team shooting effort for Wofford in its victory over The Citadel. The Terriers also sank 10-of-17 shots from 3-point range, while holding a 19-7 scoring edge off turnovers.
During the regular season, Wofford never really impressed at the offensive end, ranking ninth in the SoCon in scoring (67.9 ppg), although they did shoot a solid 45.2 percent from the floor. Part of the reason for the limited offensive production is the slower tempo the team prefers, as it does just fine defensively, allowing 62.9 ppg to its opponents. Cochran (15.5 ppg) leads a group of three double-digit scorers, with Spencer Collins (13.2 ppg) and Lee Skinner (11.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg) following close behind. However Skinner and Collins combined for only 17 points on Saturday, while Eric Garcia chipped in with 19.
The Eagles are certainly getting hot at the right time, but the grinding style at which Wofford plays may be the perfect remedy to cool them down.
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